On the Relationship Between fMRI and Theories of Cognition: The Arrow Points in Both Directions

John T Wixted, Laura Mickes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


In this article, we ask about the contribution of fMRI data to our understanding of theories of cognition and about the contribution of theories of cognition to our understanding of fMRI data. Experiments using fMRI can contribute to our understanding of cognition when they are designed to test the predictions of a particular cognitive theory. Although not all cognitive theories make clear predictions about patterns of activity in the brain fMRI experiments are often well suited to testing the predictions of those that do. However, many fMRI studies that are concerned with cognitive functional neuroanatomy are not designed to test predictions of cognitive theories but are instead designed to investigate the role played by different regions of the brain in cognitive activity. These fMRI studies do not shed light on cognitive theories but instead depend on cognitive theories to interpret the data-an interpretation that is only as valid as the cognitive theory on which it is based. These considerations suggest that the relationship between fMRI and theories of cognition is a two-way street.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-7
Number of pages4
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2013.

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science


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